There’s a controversy over John Lennon’s Imagine song every time they play it at a national event. These days, I’ve been thinking: Am I the only one listening to The Beatle’s music these days? Except for those Christians who still can’t forgive John Lennon for writing the song “Imagine,” can we all agree that we need more of Lennon’s vision of hope, compassion, unity, and tolerance?
I will argue that there’s nothing to forgive since Lennon paid his creative audacity with his life. After all, it was religious fanatism the main motive behind John’s assassination a day like today in 1980.
Can we accept different expressions of faith without demonizing those who believe in a different cosmology? John Lennon’s death wasn’t exactly God’s punishment, as some may affirm–but an act of intolerance. Even today, Christians love to loath Lennon for the words of his song Imagine: “Imagine there’s no heaven…”. However, the song was actually inspired by a Christian prayer book given to Lennon and Yoko Ono. Yoko would eventually be added in 2017 as a songwriter for the song that became John Lennon’s best-selling single of his solo career and a world anthem. It rejects religious and national division and describes a vision of a world of equality and unity, where we could “live as one.”
Not everyone understands what John meant with his lyrics. In an interview, he told a story of the time an evangelical church called him about using the song Imagine: “Can we use the lyrics to ‘Imagine’ and just change it to ‘Imagine one religion’?” To which he responded, “That showed [me] they didn’t understand it at all. It would defeat the whole purpose of the song, the whole idea.” The words that would anger many are considered beautiful by others: “Imagine there’s no countries / Nothing to kill or die for…” “Imagine no possessions…” It was Jesus who asked us to leave our attachment to possessions. Today, these words will be described by some as “the radical left and globalist agenda.” We haven’t evolved much. The Beatles have been accused of being anti-religious before; however, they were deeply spiritual. Can we stop the war between the validity of the religious and the spiritual? Expressing spiritual concepts in a non-religious language is also a valid expression of the personal right to search for the truth.
I personally can relate to Ringo Starr’s religious definition when he described himself as “a Christian/ Hindu with Buddhist tendencies.” As a Christian who has studied other religions, learning about India’s spirituality gave me the language and understanding to have a closer relationship with God.
Today, in the middle of a pandemic, we are in a similar path of spiritual and human revolution, human rights, and social justice as the sixties. As I mention in my book Seasons of the Soul, life travels in cycles, and cycles are not closed circles but open-ended spirals, and whatever was not completed then will meet us again in the next round of existence. Humanity will have to grow repeatedly through a big event that will make us ponder, either by war, by a sociopath, a pandemic, or by the three of them together. Later we will wake up and rebel once more, only to begin a new awakening.
The Beatles have been called the biggest proponents of Eastern spirituality in the ’60s, influenced by their meeting with the Maharishi, a prominent Indian guru that George Harrison met in Bombay. Much of their music was inspired by this encounter. However, the Beatles were not the first to influence the world by what they learned from India.
After the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918, we had The Roaring Twenties, and it was also in the 1920s when women won the right to vote. Spirituality had its own revolution as well, breaking away from tradition. In 1920, Hindu guru Paramahansa Yogananda arrived in the US after a long voyage by sea from India to the legendary International Congress of Religions held in Boston. Nothing was ever the same again in spirituality. It was the beginning of the democratization of belief. He brought with him Yoga and meditation, and mindfulness was here to stay — now even considered an evidence-based answer to stress. It also worked for technology; Yogananda even influenced the father of the iPhone, his book Autobiography of a Yogi was also Apple and Pixar’s founder Steve Job’s favorite book, so much that before he died, he actually left instructions to give a copy as his last gift to everyone who attended his memorial. George Harrison also said that his book had a strong impact on his life.
The ripples an artist leaves in moments of change travel through time. Thank you, John Lennon, for your vision of a unified world, beyond divisions of religion.
Today we are redefining our limiting views in policies and heading for a new revolution on science, human rights, and religion. After this COVID19 pandemic, be prepared to hear new voices, new ways of thinking, new music, new artists and writers, new ways of relating to God, and learning to live together in truth, oneness, love, and peace. New powers will surge, and others will fall, creating tension between the ones that want to keep the status quo and the ones who cry for change, but one thing is for sure, nothing will ever be the same.
I am not proposing we all become the same, but accept and respect each other’s language to describe the Divine. Let not the search for God become one more reason to judge one another.
Here comes the sun…I say, it’s alright.
Sharon M Koenig is the author of Seasons of the Soul. The book, originally published in Spanish, will be published by Pan Macmillan India (March 2021).
Suggestions to remember John Lennon today: